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Big brother mindset

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: May 15, 2011

It is surprising to see almost no noise being made about the home ministry's urge to snoop through all our emails. Particularly, emails sent to one's phone. My question is: why does the Government of India want to read my email? And why aren't more people asking questions about it?

I wonder if the cute college couple in the new BlackBerry advertisement knows that some snoop sitting in the bowels of an incongruous block of buildings somewhere in the National Capital Region is reading their chats because Research In Motion, or RIM, makers of the BlackBerry, have handed over the encr yption keys to the Government of India. One almost feels sorry for Mike Lazaradis, co-Chief Executive Officer of RIM. It is not because of the modest reviews scored by the BlackBerry Playbook, but because of the headaches the man has had due to India.

The video of his interview to BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones, where he walks out because these issues were raised, is a rage on the Internet right now. Back to my grouse. I do not understand why the government wants to snoop on the Blackberry Enterprise Server, or BES, emails. I really doubt that the Lashkar-e-Taiba or any other terrorist group would have enterprise email. And I do not think that Ajmal Kasab was checking email on his smartphone in between volleys of gunfire at the Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus.

We all know the Government of India leaks like a sieve. The Radia tapes are a case in point. Private conversations were leaked to all and sundry - and while some of those conversations might have made some members of the fourth estate appear to be nothing more than twopenny corporate shills - the fact remains that they were leaked by someone in the government. And while many of us, particularly in the media fraternity, have had our fair share of voyeuristic pleasure from listening to those tapes, the fact remains that they were leaked before they were placed in a court as evidence. How will you feel if the government leaked all your conversations and emails?

The worry is not about the government getting access to the BES for Business Today and reading our newslists, and leaking them to our rivals - though one should not rule that possibility out completely. But what if your company is discussing a multi-million-dollar deal confidentially over an email and the next day a rival pips you to the post? Or the news is emblazoned across the front page of a newspaper, thanks to a friendly snoop somewhere in the chain?

Kushan Mitra
Kushan Mitra
True, according to laws in the US and Europe, companies have to submit corporate emails to regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, and if certain laws came into place in India, listed Indian companies would be needed to turn over their emails to the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or SEBI. But even when the law comes in force, companies will not be required to disclose the emails immediately after sending them.

There is no doubt that emails and the Internet can be used as an instrument for communication by terrorists and that India has been a victim of terrorism for years. But the country has much more to gain from unfettered access than having thousands of people snoop through citizens' chats and email. Unless this is a gigantic job scheme to employ thousands of youth, it makes no sense whatsoever. After all the talk we hear about how India is superior to China because "we are a democracy", our government takes a page out of the neighbour's handbook and makes it worse.

Let the Internet be free and leave my emails alone.

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